Aron lawyers claim police entrapped her Retrial gets under way in murder-for-hire case

July 09, 1998|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Defense lawyers characterized Ruthann Aron yesterday as a woman with an "eggshell-thin veneer of toughness" that concealed serious mental illness, someone who needed professional help but who instead was entrapped by police when they learned of her alleged murder-for-hire scheme.

The entrapment issue marks a new strategy in the Aron case, which is being tried for the second time in Montgomery County Circuit Court in Rockville.

Lawyer Harry Trainor Jr. said the tape recordings of his client's conversations with a detective she believed to be a hit man and their go-between showed that Aron was goaded and pushed into the plan that targeted her husband, Dr. Barry Aron, and another man.

Ruthann Aron, a well-known Montgomery County developer and former U.S. Senate candidate, was too prominent a figure for police to do otherwise, Trainor said.

"It was the chance to reel in a big fish," Trainor told the jury of nine women and three men during his opening statement. "No help was on the way for her."

Aron has pleaded not criminally responsible to two counts of solicitation to commit murder. A mistrial was ruled in the first case after one juror refused to convict based on the medical testimony.

Her new defense team also promised jurors they would disclose the results of new psychiatric tests and reveal errors in the assessments of state psychiatrists.

In other respects, their strategy is consistent with that of the first trial. The defense will again draw heavily on testimony that describes Aron as a person suffering from lifelong mental health problems and childhood sexual abuse.

Prosecutors spent nearly two hours yesterday detailing for jurors the events leading up to Aron's arrest on June 6, 1997, characterizing her plan as deliberate and calculated.

Distraught over her husband's plans for divorce and concerned that it might interfere with her bid for a Montgomery County Council seat, Aron decided to have him killed, said Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell. Aron's other plan, to have lawyer Arthur Kahn killed, was an act of revenge for testimony Kahn gave against her in a civil suit, Campbell added.

During his statement, Campbell provided a blueprint of evidence the jury will consider: the 15 tapes in which Aron is heard conspiring with her supposed collaborators; a .38-caliber handgun found under Aron's wardrobe; a silencer; subsonic ammunition and instructions for making a silencer; the red wig, white floppy hat and three-quarter-length trench coat she wore as a disguise when dropping off a $500 deposit for the hit man at the Gaithersburg Marriott; even the code name -- 10 -- she used to identify herself to the undercover detective.

"This is a bright, intelligent, accomplished, highly educated, very capable person who meant what she said and said what she meant," Campbell said. She showed startling coldness in the wake of her decisions, he said.

Within hours of ordering her husband killed, she telephoned Barry Aron from the grocery store, offering to bring him lobster for dinner, Campbell said.

After dropping off the down payment for the killing, she spent a relaxing afternoon at the golf course, he said.

Aron's lawyers said her unusual reactions under the circumstances support their arguments of serious mental illness.

"Most people being arrested and handcuffed could be expected to react with shock, panic or tears," Trainor said. "Her response was, 'OK.' "

He also noted that Aron was busily planning an engagement party for her son during the same period. The invitations had been ordered and the country club reserved.

"Did she really intend to kill her husband of 33 years, the father of her children?" Trainor said to jurors. "Did she really intend that people die from her words?"

Prosecutors planned to play tapes of Aron's conversations as testimony continues today.

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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